Taxi Rank Tribulations and the God Who Restores Time

In my post The Year of His Restoration, I said that this year, God will restore time that we have lost. And when God restores, He does so in quantity, quality or both.

This afternoon, Ling and I ended up in the Singapore CBD to buy dinner for her parents. Getting stuck in the CBD at peak hour however is no laughing matter.

We debated about the best way to get back home. I thought that we should take the train closer to home and then catch a bus. My male logic said that trains didn’t have to compete in the traffic jam and the schedule was certain. Ling wanted to take a taxi.

We ended up at a taxi rank with only four other people in the queue. It looked promising. But as time passed, it became apparent that this wasn’t a popular pick up point amongst taxi drivers.

After waiting about 40 minutes, I said to Ling that we should cut our losses and take the train. She prayed and looked expectantly down the road.

By this time, we were at the front of the line.

She said, “We are already at the front of the queue. We are first in line.”

“We might be first in line, but we are first in a line of nothing! Come on, let’s go to the subway,” I muttered tersely.

“But what if the next taxi comes just as we leave?”

“It’s fine. Just go and don’t look back.” (I thought I could demonstrate my biblical prowess and therefore the correctness of my position with an allusion to Lot’s wife).

“Here’s a taxi coming!”

“That one is on call. None of the taxis are stopping here.”

“You pray!”

(I stayed silent. I was too annoyed to pray).

“There’s another taxi turning into our street.”

“This is the last one. If it doesn’t stop, we are leaving and catching the train.”

The taxi immediately picked up someone further up the street.

“Okay, that’s it! Let’s go!”

Ling stood still, obstinately fixing her gaze to the start of the street.

And just as I was ready to turn around and walk away in frustration, a taxi with a green light on the roof miraculously cruised up to the rank.

Ling opened the door, I looked down and humbly climbed into the taxi and we were on the way home. She managed a smile as to say “aren’t you glad I stuck to my guns”, whilst resisting the impulse to gloat.

Even though we lost a good 45 minutes or so, the Lord redeemed our time. We got home in the same amount of time we would have taken had we caught the train. We didn’t need to walk, change train lines, transfer to a bus, and get caught in the rain. Instead, we sat down and rested in air-conditioned comfort.

And in an ironic twist, as we got onto the freeway, we noticed a decal on the taxi drivers’s windshield – the New Creation Church logo!

I’m sure the Lord had a bit of a chuckle over this episode. It took a woman of faith to persevere in prayer. And I was blessed despite my lack of faith!

To Know the Exceeding Greatness of God’s Power

I’ve got quite a few thoughts to share today, and they are probably quite random. However, if there is to be a common thread, it is to be seen in Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 1:17-21:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strengthhe exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Rev Margaret Seaward, an 81 year old missionary and church planter, shared on this passage during today’s service at Faith Community Church. She made two main points.

First, we need to “know” Christ. It’s not a head knowledge, but a knowledge rooted in experience. In the Message version, Eugene Peterson renders it as to “know him personally”.

Second, God wants us to experience his incomparably great power or (again as Peterson puts it), “God’s endless energy and boundless strength”. This is the same power which raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the heavenly realm. As Rev Seaward puts it, it is a power that defies the laws of nature, the laws and edicts of man; and the power of the demonic realm.

Rev Seaward preached a fairly simple and straightforward message, but it was peppered with loads of her own stories and experiences – and you could see that this was a woman of God who has personally experienced God’s power in her life. I was inspired to hear from a believer who had walked in the ways of God for decades. I hope that when I get to 80 years old, I would have had even half of the number of God encounters to tell to the generations to come after me.

Today was also significant because it was my first time back serving in a Sunday worship band in a church. I was actually quite nervous, not having been part of a church worship team since March 2011. In fact, I felt a little out of my depth.

But everyone on the band (known as “Team 3”) was really friendly and welcoming so I didn’t end up feeling too uncomfortable. A photo of the awesome Team 3 is above.

I was absolutely blown away by the size of the team; their heart for worship; and the quality of their musicianship. From a singer’s perspective, each of the singers on our team blended really well with each other and everyone could do harmonies too. It’s like being part of a dream team. And as we worshipped, there was such a powerful sense of God’s presence as we declared His greatness. It was a great start to my time in FCC’s worship ministry.

The only sad thing for me was knowing that the bassist Jon Teoh was about to relocate to Melbourne and that today was his final time playing in the band. I actually only met Jon in May of this year when he stepped in to play bass for me on one of the Converge teams I was leading. I was instantly struck by what a nice guy he was because after rehearsal, he asked if Pastor Yoy wanted to catch up with him and he was actually prepared to drive quite a distance to go have supper with Yoy. I quietly thought that Jon was a really decent person.

More than that, I had the privilege on being on another band with him and also found out that he does the interpreting for the Chinese congregation. This was a guy who was after God’s heart and served God with all he had. So, I was hoping to work with him more, but I guess our loss is Melbourne’s gain!

I share all of this in a way to say that these experiences are part of all our respective journeys in knowing and experiencing Christ more. Be it my own journey, or Jon’s or Rev Seaward’s, Christ is being revealed to us more and more. Again to quote Peterson’s paraphrase of verse 19: so that we can grasp “the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers” and “the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”

One final thought, and this one is funny. Last night, I was celebrating the birthday of a good friend of mine, Darren. I love sitting down and talking with him about life, worship, God and all sorts of other things. But in the midst of all the good food and the fun we were having, he started to share with me some thoughts on the Christian life which he gleaned from cellaring his expensive wines. I hope that he will guest blog these thoughts shortly, but one of the things he said went something like this:

Darren: have you ever thought about the verse “Ask and it will be given to you”? I know that God gives me all the little things, like I can ask for a car park spot and I’ll get it, but there are other things I ask for, bigger things, and it doesn’t seem like God answers. Maybe it’s like good wine. Maybe when you ask for these things, God has already given them to you; except that they are in your cellar. God knows that if you open it too soon, the wine won’t taste like what it could have had it been cellared for its full life.

What a profound thought, I said to myself. I also thought “I don’t remember God giving me a car park spot when I’ve asked…”

And then this afternoon, after church, a few of us were going to Fremantle Market after lunch in Ling’s car. She was wondering where to park and logically, I thought we should park in a big car park where there is ample parking. But Ling decided to turn into a very small car park right in front of the Market, and to me it looked full. Without batting an eye lid, she said “I’m going straight into that car park and park the car.” My immediate response was “how can you be so sure?” She drove into the car park anyway and just at that moment, a lady appeared out of nowhere and walked to her car. As Ling signalled, the lady reached into the car, walked over and without saying a word, gave Ling her parking voucher which still had 45 minutes of unexpired time left on it.

God not only supplied the parking spot, He also supplied the parking voucher!

And I was reminded again: if God did not spare his own Son, how much more will He give us all things!

In big things and in little things, we are experiencing God’s exceedingly great power! This is the immensity of the glorious way of life which God has in store for His followers!

Sometimes Bossanova Just Happens: Lessons from Your Worst Nightmare

I love this clip of Martin Smith leading worship, because it goes to show that no worship leader is immune from the silliest of mistakes:

I remember one time when I was leading worship and we had just transitioned into the song “At the Cross”. As we started singing, it was clear to me that something or someone was clearly out of tune. So I looked down at the keyboardist and gave him a real dirty look. I was sure it was him. As we were singing through the first verse, I was thinking to myself “come on, mate, we’ve rehearsed this. We’re meant to go up to the key of A. When we do the debrief later, we’re going to have some words!”

And then I began to ask: why is the bassist off as well? Am I the only one who is going by what we rehearsed? Why can’t anyone else seem to hear properly? And then, towards the end of the chorus, I looked down and realised, to my horror, that it was me! I had forgotten to capo my acoustic guitar and was playing (and singing) in the key of G whilst else was in A as we had planned. I nearly died…

At that moment, I was humbled.

I take comfort in the fact that something similar happened to Martin Smith! I also take comfort in the fact that Martin Smith also thought it was everyone else before he realised he had turned on the bossanova on his keyboard!

We are never immune from mistakes, no matter how hard we prepare. Making mistakes is part of life, but the important thing is to learn from them.

So, here are some lessons I’ve learnt from episodes like these:

Firstly, humility comes before honour. (Actually I stole this phrase from Faith Community Church’s Statement of Ministry Culture, but I like it, so I’m replicating it here). It’s very easy to look around at others’ mistakes, particularly when you are working in a team. It’s much harder to see your own shortcomings. Sometimes, God graces us with bossanova moments so that it is entirely clear with whom the mistake lies. After you look around to the drummer, or the bassist, or stare evils at the sound guy, you have to conclude that no one else was to blame but your fat finger touching the wrong button.

Secondly, we should put in place protocols to avoid repeats of the mistake. I was talking to my former music director Addie Choon recently and he said that bossanova moments happen way too often to keyboardists. So what he does is that he has his finger ready on the volume slide to bring the sound right down if any hint of bossanova appears. Or some keyboardists start with the volume on zero to gently slide it up. Especially during ministry times.

Thirdly, sometimes it’s good to “bite the bullet” and not take yourself so seriously. In my younger days, if I started singing in the wrong key, or if the song was pitched too high, I would keep pressing on like it was all part of the plan, even though the strain in my voice made it utterly clear that it definitely wasn’t part of the plan. Now, I’m quite happy to say, “oops, sorry guys, let’s just start again”. You’d be surprised how forgiving the congregation is. In fact, that moment usually results in the congregation throwing their support behind you as they cheer and clap to encourage you; their eyes are opened to the fact that the worship isn’t a superstar. Suddenly you don’t have to try so hard to lead them into worship because you are one of them!

Lastly, I wonder whether the Spirit of God is more robust and less prone to offence than we think. Often, we act like the Holy Spirit only works and moves in the quiet times when strings are playing solemnly and thickly in the background. But the Spirit of God also brings joy, even in the midst of our greatest embarrassments.

Have you, as a worship leader, had a bossanova moment? Share it with us below.

What Type of Worship Leader Are You?

Years ago, I came across John de Jong’s catalogue of different types of worship leaders (from his book Riding the Storm), which I thought was rather amusing. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but in the process, he makes some quite incisive observations about worship leading methodology.

So here are the categories, but I want to just make the disclaimer that any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental:

1. The Cheerleader

  • After a hearty welcome, the cheerleader likes to encourage the congregation with a brief but uplifting “thought of the day” before launching into a bone-jarring praise song.
  • He’s not too concerned about musical finesse; most songs feature scrubbed acoustic guitar (slightly but annoyingly out of tune).
  • He is an eternal optimist and his approach involves much encouragement to “give God the glory” followed by frequent clap offerings.
  • He often works up a sweat and is particularly fond of bouncing.
  • It’s generally a good hour before he lets the pastor onto stage for the announcements.

2. The DJ

  • The DJ is the cheerleader’s brother but attends a different church (again, any resemblance to real life is entirely coincidental! – I know my brother will read this and he’s going to say something to me.)
  • He loves to talk especially between songs.
  • He often prays extemporary prayers that are shallow, if not trite, using many well-worn cliches.
  • He likes to start the service by explaining in detail why worship is really important.
  • Before singing the first song, he reads a scripture that the Lord gave him that morning as he was cleaning his teeth.
  • His eyes are closed most of the time but he frequently opens them to check that that congregation is paying attention.
  • At the end of the song, he will remind the congregation why the have just finished the last song before helpfully explaining why the next song was chosen.

3. The Dictator

  • The dictator is essentially a control freak.
  • He is a bit like the cheerleader with all the compassion squeezed out of him.
  • He is sometimes a serious, domineering, priest-like figure who seldom smiles yet often stares with piercing eyes at the congregation or he wears the mask of super-spirituality, retreating behind a veil of mystical communion.
  • He often exhibits a breathtaking command of Scripture.
  • He might accuse some of the congregation of failing to worship with sufficient abandon.
  • Whilst he is a capable musician, he seems almost unable to enjoy himself and unable to relinquish control to allow people to find their own pathway to Jesus.
  • He likes hymns with challenging lyrics rather than musical or artistic beauty.
  • Instead of gently leading people into worship, he will march boldly ahead expecting them to follow.

4. The Transcendental Meditator

  • He stands at the front with his eyes firmly closed most of the time.
  • His voice is not very loud but he’s a pretty good (acoustic) guitarist having spent hours in his bedroom working out new chord inversions.
  • Sometimes when he leads worship, the congregation is unaware that the service has started.
  • He loves working in a team, but sometimes the musicians around him get bored.
  • Songs seem to go on forever as he gently sways.
  • He cannot stand shallow praise songs, but instead prefers repetitive dirges that lead him towards Nirvana as the congregation dreams of coffee and doughnuts.
  • He likes the sound of the phrase “deep calls unto deep” but hasn’t a clue what it means.

5. The Small Animal in Bright Lights

  • The small animal in bright lights is a pretty girl (remember, this is John de Jong’s words, not mine!).
  • Someone once told her that if she fixed her eyes on a point on the back wall just above the last pew, it would look as though she was making eye contact with people without actually having to look at them. What they failed to tell her was that it’s advisable to change the spot occasionally, so now she looks like a rabbit caught in headlights.
  • Her mum says she has a really nice voice, but few people have actually heard it.
  • She’s a real sweetie and no one minds that they can’t actually hear her sing.
  • When she’s feeling really relaxed, she closes her eyes and lifts one hand in worship.

When I first read this list, I had to have a bit of a chuckle and I mentally slotted in the worship leader friends I had into the different categories.

I’m a definitely a cheerleader, but not attractive enough to be a real cheerleader! Yes, I do encourage people to “give God the glory” and I really, really love clap offerings. In fact, I can’t stand a worship set not ending with a rousing clap offering! And I bounce too. When it gets really exciting, I might even … twirl. Yes, that’s right, twirl! There I said it!

So, what type of worship leader are you: cheerleader, DJ, dictator, transcendental meditator or deer caught in headlights? Post your comments below.

Coincidences

I love the story Dennis Bennett tells in his book Nine O’Clock in the Morning.  As he was beginning to come to grips with this whole “being filled with the Spirit” thing, he goes on a picnic with his wife.  Here’s the rest of the story (pp 127-128):

“Well, we didn’t pick a very good day for a picnic, dear,” I said to Elberta.  “Looks like it’s going to be pouring after a while.  What’ll we do?”

“Pray?”

There it was again!  Pray about the weather?  Wasn’t that carrying things a bit too far?  Still, Jesus prayed about the weather, and He got results!  He said, “The works that I do shall you do also, and greater things than these shall you do…”

“Okay.”  So we prayed; but the clouds did not roll away, and the sun did not blaze forth!

“What do we do now?” I asked my wife.

“Let’s start out,” she replied, so we put the picnic basket into the car and headed for the mountains.  Personally, I was feeling very silly.  If the weather was bad in Seattle, one thing was sure; it was worse up in the hills.  As we rolled along, we talked about it.

“We prayed for good weather – I think we’re supposed to keep on driving until we got to the good weather,” said my wife.  And that’s just what we did.  We had clouds all the way up into the mountains until we approached the area where we had wanted to picnic; and behold, the sun began to break through!

“Keep driving!” said my woman of faith, and in a few miles we emerged into full sunshine, right at a beautiful little picnic spot where we had a lovely warm day by the river.  When we had eaten and basked in the sunshine for a while, we packed our things and headed back for town.  We hadn’t driven 20 minutes before we were in rain!  Coincidence?  Well, as a certain bishop of our acquaintance puts it, “All I know is that when I stop praying, the coincidences stop happening!”

I love this story.  It reminds me that God cares for all the little things in our lives.  Even the little things which seem like coincidences are a result of our prayer (or someone else’s prayer).

And it reminds me that it’s good to be married to a woman of faith!